Winners not whiners

Do you remember the toys called Weebles? They were egg-shaped with a heavy base. If you’ve never seen them or if you would like to see a brief 1970s commercial for them, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFzhjnjXc2o. The marketing was “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” A child could tap the Weeble with enough force so it turned sideways, and for a brief moment, lay against the ground. However, in an instant, the toy popped back upright! How could this happen? The secret is that there was something special inside. 

The behavior of the Weebles reminds me of the imagery of verses 23 and 24 from Psalm 37: “By the Lord are the steps of a man made firm. Though he falls, he does not lie prostrate, for the hand of the Lord sustains him.” This human capacity to recover quickly from problems and difficulties is called resilience. Analogous to those Weebles, we humans each have something special inside that guides our resilience. Each of us needs to discern what that something special is and then decide how to remain in touch with it. As Winston Churchill suggested, this allows us to be the optimist who sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

For objects, there are two characteristics required for resiliency: pliability and strength. Things must bend a bit as force is applied, or they will simply shatter. Given the importance of toughness for an object’s durability, it is not surprising that one worldly and false association is that resilience is due to personal force of character. Though they suggest survival for the speaker, the two popular movie lines “Go ahead, make my day” (“Sudden Impact”) and “I’ll be back” (“Terminator”) are truly about vengeance, not resilience. 

Let’s look deeper at some Biblical and modern examples of resiliency in order to find its essence. From the Old Testament, there is the example of Job who suffered financial loss followed by deep physical and emotional pain. Yet, even at the point of his greatest loss and suffering, Job spoke to God and said, “I know You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be hindered” (Job 42: 2). Deep faith is the external marker of that special something which is inside each of us. Yes, that special something inside us is the presence of God. 

One New Testament example of resilience is Mary Magdalene. She is the person St. Augustine called “Apostle to the Apostles.” In John 20: 11-18, we are told Mary saw someone she thought was the gardener. Though wracked with grief, Mary courageously had no intention of letting the gardener go until he told her where he had placed Jesus’ Body. A second New Testament example of resilience is Peter. In a moment of human weakness, he had denied knowing Jesus. For the remainder of his life, each day he fearlessly taught everyone he met all there was to know about Jesus. For Mary and Peter, faith in action was the renewable fuel for their resilience. 

St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians reveals that joy and peace are the signs by which we will recognize God’s guidance. He says, “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). Contrary to worldly expectations, in the midst of crisis and change, we can and will feel God’s peace and then the world will sense the joy we will radiate. 

In the story “The Container” from the book “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal,” Dr. Rachel Remen describes a young man’s journey after a life-altering amputation. Even though the surgery removed the cancer and thus saved his life, he was sure his life was over. He was filled with rage. Eventually, his focus shifted to others who had faced similar disfiguring surgeries or accidents and the injustice of the medical community in not meeting their needs. As his ministry to aid these patients developed, his anger was gradually replaced with a peaceful smile for the young people he helped. His heart and mind had been transformed by his decision to find a way to allow that something special to shine through his actions. 

A final example of resilience is virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman. During a concert performance, one of the strings on his violin snapped. Perlman continued the performance immediately adapting the music and playing it with the strings that remained! He later said, “This has been my vocation, my lifelong mission — to make music out of what remains.” 

That is the opportunity for each of us. Resilience is a choice to return to the special person we are inside. Even at the most stressful points of our lives, we can choose to be winners by selecting to enjoy being in God’s peaceful presence as we seek His guidance in order to create something new and beautiful. 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer born and raised in Fall River. She is a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish and received her Ph.D. in neurochemistry from Boston College. She can be contacted at biochemwz@hotmail.com.

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